By: Jim Rosenberg
Ray Maly has a knack for being in the right place at the right ? and wrong ? times.
In his New York hometown he was encouraged by a commercial printer, for whom he worked to pay his way through Rochester Institute of Technology. Job offers in hand, he then sought the counsel of his local daily’s general manager. With his training, Maly should go into newspapers, said future Gannett Co. Chairman Allen Neuharth, pointing him to The Ithaca Journal, a nearby Gannett paper installing an offset press. “You’ll be in a good position to grow with the industry,” Maly remembers Neuharth saying. “He was right.”
It also put him in places where he’d confront immense natural forces. Maly was in Washington when Mount St. Helens’ airborne ash threatened printing after a 1980 eruption. A quarter-century later, trucks carried out his crew instead of copies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
In New Orleans, Times-Picayune General Manager Raymond Massett credits Maly with upgrading and expanding printing and packaging, reducing waste, stretching news deadlines, mentoring, team building, and teaching problem solving.
When Times-Picayune Publisher Ashton Phelps in June saluted his outgoing operations chief (now retiring after 18 years at the paper), he struck two main chords of Maly’s professional and personal life, calling him “a tireless leader with a genuine interest in people, whether employees or customers.”
Indeed, Maly led several industry groups and helped start and support community-aid groups. Between printing for and later selling to commercial customers, he helped usher in cold type and offset, moving from that first job in Ithaca to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as it also moved off letterpress and transmitted to a satellite plant by phone line. During tours there, he says, “I made a lot of friends,” learning much about their newspaper operations around the world.
At his next stop, Vancouver, Wash., Maly helped persuade The Columbian’s then-publisher, Don Campbell, to expand commercial work. His son and current publisher Scott says Maly made “a huge contribution” during the “crazy days of commercial printing,” a business notorious for missing deadlines. Maly’s positive attitude, he says, “helped everyone get through that.” Until eclipsed by heatset, the three-shift operation took in two-thirds of what the daily grossed, Campbell recalls. “Ray brought the first round of strategic planning,” and was “very progressive, figuring out how to take things to the next level.”
In turn, Maly recalls Don Campbell as “open to suggestions,” someone who “liked to try new things,” from Pyrofax platemaker to Photon typesetter. He still has the quarter his bosses tossed to see if they would buy the Photon that year. (They did.)
Decades later, Maly feels “it’s taken us way too long” to adopt new technology. “We think too much about our own industry,” he says, suggesting post-press look to other industries for automation.
Younger managers, he adds, seem more willing to think in new ways. But they also worry him. While affirming the value that two-earner households place on family time, he’s concerned by reports from other, often publicly held companies about new managers’ commitment. “It seems to me they’re just not interested in putting in extra hours needed to make their departments run” or accomplish special projects, he says. Happy that was not his experience, he remarks: “I was lucky to be at companies that were private,” even while in St. Louis.
As technology changes the way work gets done, Maly sees something else happening: small papers no longer needing production directors, relying instead on supervisors reporting to publishers or general managers.
Years ago Maly crafted his own mission statement: focus on people, at work and in the community. With no union, employee development in New Orleans was easier. And the Times-Picayune policy to always make personnel issues a priority, he says, “was perfect for my style of management.” Judging by others’ comments on his last day at the paper, Maly says, “I accomplished what I wanted to do.”